Lee's Kitchen: Chile crisp, pesto taste great on everything

I have written two recipes for today’s column. The recipe for chile crisp is from a writer who always has a jar of the stuff in his refrigerator. He puts it on everything including “eggs, guacamole [and] pizza.” It does seems spicy, although I like spicy, especially for breakfast.

The other recipe is basil pesto I have made for decades. I use it in all my red sauce recipes, often in stews, and I love it by itself for pasta. I don’t have a garden this year, but friends are giving me big handfuls of basil. My pals on the board of education gave me a gift certificate for superb olive oil at Capizzano in Pawcatuck. I have a bag of pine nuts in the freezer. My food processor does all the rest.

Chile Crisp

From Bon Appetit, August, 2019

Yield: 2 cups


4 small shallots, thinly sliced

cloves from 2 heads of garlic (yes, heads of garlic)

6 star anise pods

2 cinnamon sticks

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

2-inch knob of ginger

1/4 cup red pepper flakes

2 teaspoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons sugar


In a medium saucepan, toss shallots and garlic over medium heat along with star anise pods and cinnamon sticks and vegetable oil. Cook, reducing heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer and swirling pan occasionally until shallot and garlic are browned and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes; it is important to go slow.

Peel and very finely chop ginger. Mix in a medium bowl with red pepper flakes, soy sauce and sugar. Strain shallot mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into ginger mixture. Let shallots and garlic cool in sieve. Add to sauce.

Chili crisp can be made one month ahead. Cover and chill until ready to use.

Pesto alla Genovese

from “365 Ways to Cook Pasta” by Marie Simmons, Harper Collins, New York, 1988

Yield: 1 cup or enough for 1 pound of pasta. I triple or quadruple the recipe and freeze it in small zipper plastic bags. The pesto will last for more than a year and will thaw in minutes.

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves

1/3 cup pine nuts*

1 large garlic clove, chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese**

Finely chop basil, nuts, garlic and salt in a food processor. With processor still running, add oil in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube until mixture is thoroughly blended. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the cheese.

Freeze in tiny freezer bags. When ready to use, you can thaw the pesto in freezer bag between your two hands.

*Pine nuts are very expensive but worth it. However, walnuts can be used. The flavor will be different but still tasty.

**Please do not use the grated cheese that comes in those containers that sit on the supermarket shelf. You cannot believe what a difference fresh, high-quality cheese makes. A good supermarket will grate Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for you — I have them grate Parmigiano-Reggiano and Romano together, which drives purists crazy — and you can store the cheese in an air-tight container in your refrigerator or freezer. Even better, buy a small chunk and grate it yourself as you need it.


On the Side

I am old school when it comes to sweet corn: it needs to be field fresh, husked quickly, dropped in boiling water for three minutes and eaten right away with butter. I don't even use salt. But the new Bon Appetit had some ideas for sweet corn adventurers. Here are the four recipes, starting with one stick of unsalted butter:

  • 6 tablespoons harissa paste and 1/2 cup finely chopped mint
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped tender herbs and 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 3 ounces Parmesan, coarsely grated, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • or 2 tablespoons miso and 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds.

Lee White lives in Groton. She can be reached at leeawhite@aol.com.


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